November 09, 2010

Student perspectives on technology in UK universities

Lawrie Phipps of the JISC has written a nice response to the recommendations of the report to HEFCE by the NUS (the UK National Union of Students), Student perspectives on technology – demand, perceptions and training needs [PDF], which makes a number of recommendations around ICT strategy, staff training and so on. Lawrie's contention is that the:

challenge arising from this report is not how to use more technology, nor how to integrate it into practice. The challenge is articulating our existing practice in ways that act as both an exemplar to students (and Support their own digital literacy), and enhance our practice by sharing the exemplary work that is already there.

From my perspective, the difference between "you're not using ICT effectively" and "we are using ICT effectively but nobody recognises that we're using ICT effectively" is somewhat moot. I prefer to see the report in terms of its findings not in terms of its recommendations (which, it seems to me, are really for universities to make anyway).

The point is that where the report indicates fairly fundamental issues, such as student "dissatisfaction that the type of technology used in HE is increasingly outdated" and that a "lack of staff engagement with the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)" is frustrating for students, we either have to show those things not to be the case (I don't know, maybe they aren't) or acknowledge that whatever it is we are currently doing isn't working well enough? It seems hard to do the former in light of this report?

As a result, I'd tend to read the combination of the report and Lawrie's response as saying, "there are problems with the way ICT is being used to support teaching and learning in universities but we're already doing most of what the report recommends and therefore we need to do something else". Would that be unfair?

As an aside, I was struck by one of the themes highlighted by the report:

Participants expressed concerns over “surface learning” whereby a student only learns the bare minimum to meet module requirements – this behaviour was thought to be encouraged by ICT: students can easily skim-read material online, focusing on key terms rather than a broader base of understanding.

It seems harsh, to me, to lay the blame for this at the door of ICT. If there's a problem with "surface learning" (again, I can only go with what the report says here) then it presumably might have other causes... the pedagogic approaches and/or assessment strategies in use for example?

Me? I love skim-reading! I thought it was a key-skill? I got about 10 paragraphs past that point in the report and stopped reading! Surface learning FTW :-)

December 10, 2009

Please update your privacy settings

Still interested in Facebook?

If so, remember that the privacy settings are in the process of being changed, with the default settings being much more public than before.

It would have been nice if they'd opted to leave things as they are by default and let people open things up gradually but it isn't too hard to change from their suggested 'public' settings to what you had before (10 clicks to be precise).  How many people actually do it remains to be seen of course.

I know it's fashionable to paint Facebook as the bad guys but I actually think they try quite hard to make it clear who can see what.

May 12, 2009

HE in a Web 2.0 world?

The Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World report, which is being launched in London this evening, crossed my horizon this morning and I ended up twittering about it on and off for most of the day.

Firstly, I should confess that I've only had a chance to read the report summary, not the full thing, so if my comments below are out of line, I apologise in advance.

It strikes me that the report has a rather unhelpful title because it doesn't seem to me to be about "higher education" per se.  Rather, it is about teaching and learning in HE. For example, there's nothing in it about research practice as far as I can tell. Nor is it really about "Web 2.0" (whatever that means!).  It is about the social Web and the impact that social software might have on the way learning happens in HE.

The trouble with using the phrase "Web 2.0" in the title is that it is confusing, as evidenced by the Guardian's coverage of the report which talks, in part, about universities outsourcing email to Google.  Hello... email is about as old skool as it gets in terms of social software and completely orthogonal to the main thrust of the report itself.

And, while I'm at it, I have another beef with the Guardian's coverage.  Why, oh why, does the mainstream media insist on making stupid blanket statements about the youth of today and their use of social media?  Here are two examples from the start of the article:

The "Google generation" of today's students has grown up in a digital world. Most are completely au fait with the microblogging site Twitter...

Modern students are happy to share...

I don't actually believe either statement and would like to see some evidence backing them up.  Students might well be happy to share their music?  They might well be happy to share their photos on Facebook?  Does that make them happy to share their coursework?  In some cases, possibly...  but in the main? I doubt it.

I'm nervous about this kind of thing only because it reminds me of the early days of HE's interest in Second Life, where people were justifying their in-world activities with arguments like, "we need to be in SL because that's where the kids are", a statement that wasn't true then, and isn't true now :-(

Anyway, I digress... despite the naff title, I found the report's recommendations to be reasonably sensible. I have a nagging doubt that the main focus is on social software as a means to engender greater student/tutor engagement and/or as a pedagogic tool whereas I would prefer to see more emphasis on the institution as platform, enabling student to student collaboration and then dealing with the consequences.  In short, I want the focus to be on learning rather than teaching I suppose.  However, perhaps that is my mis-reading of the summary.

I also note that the report doesn't seem to use the words "digital literacy" (at least, not in the summary), instead using "information literacy" and "web awareness" separately. I think this is a missed opportunity to help focus some thinking and effort on digital literacy. I'm not arguing that information literacy is not important... but I also think that digital literacy skills, understanding the issues around online identity and the long term consequences of material in social networks for example, are also very important and I'm not sure that comes out of this report clearly enough.

Anyway, enough for now... the report (or at least the summary) seems to me to be well worth reading.

January 13, 2009

Plagiarism in the classroom

A new 30 minute video by, Secondary ICT - Plagiarism - A Cut and Paste Generation, looks at issues around plagiarism in school, college and university settings.

A look at how staff combat plagiarism in schools, colleges and universities, following the rise of the internet and the cut and paste generation.

A schools plagiarism workshop shows the difficulty in defining and responding to plagiarism in schools, and students at the University of Leeds attend a compulsory study skills module to help boost their understanding of plagiarism.

At Ripon Grammar School, North Yorkshire, staff help students develop independent research skills using the internet in unexpected subjects such as PE and biology.

Hemsworth Arts and Community College, Pontefract, teaches a Harvard style referencing system and uses a plagiarism policy to demonstrate the small steps that can provide pupils with the awareness they need in internet research.

It features a short extract showing one of the plagiarism workshops undertaken by Netskills as part of the information literacy projects that we funded a while ago. videos are primarily targeted at school teachers in the UK but this video will probably be of interest to anyone thinking about how to improve citation and general information literacy skills at any level of education.

August 15, 2008

Student part-time work offered: controlling the VC's avatar

A nice quote in yesterday's Times Higher by John Coyne, VC at the University of Derby, in an article about transliteracy:

"While I was on the walkabout in Second Life, I bumped into another avatar (online persona) and it was one of my lecturers. He was surprised to discover his vice-chancellor there," Coyne explains.

"We engaged in a conversation, but I think he realised my avatar was being directed by a student colleague when he asked me a question. Apparently I responded by saying, 'Cool.'?


August 13, 2008


We funded the one year BRUM project back in 2006 as part of our programme of small-scale information literacy projects.  I've just noticed that the project has secured another tranche of funding, this time from an internal source at the University of Birmingham where it is based.  Now known as ReJiG (Repurposing from Jorum into GEL) the project is looking to "repurpose learning material from Jorum to fill gaps in our Guide to Effective Learning (GEL) web site. The GEL site contains a host of study skills material, most of which is available to anyone accessing the site".

This is great news. One of the pieces of evidence we use to judge whether our funding has been successful is the ability of projects (particularly small projects) to go on and get continuation funding from other sources.

August 12, 2008

Digital literacy anyone?

Il_logo_bw_2 The Information Literacy Section of IFLA has announced the winner of a competition to design an "information literacy" logo.

The aim of creating this Logo is to make communication easier between those who carry out information literacy projects, their communities, and society in general. The Logo will be available free of charge and promoted as an international symbol of information literacy.

The initial funding for the logo contest came from UNESCO, as part of the Information for All Programme (IFAP).  ALA define information literacy as follows:

To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.

A definition that is re-used by Wikipedia.

All well and good, though I am inclined to think that the kind of 'digital literacy' espoused by Tanya Byron in her Safer Children in a  Digital World: the report of the Byron Review is fast becoming at least as important as information literacy - discuss!  Odd though that Byron never once uses the terms 'digital literacy' or 'information literacy', preferring to use 'media literacy' instead (23 times I think), about which she says:

We need to empower people with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to embrace new technology to make the decisions that will protect themselves and their family. In some circles this is called being ‘media literate’. However, ‘media literacy’ is an abstract title, which is difficult to translate into something that is meaningful to the public.

Ofcom defines media literacy as “the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts”. This is a widely recognised definition for understanding the issues around media literacy in society. However, an approach that is perhaps more useful for understanding the role of media literacy in improving e-safety is ensuring that children broaden and deepen their skills, knowledge and understanding to use new technology. While this is a necessary discussion, it is equally important to ensure that the wider debate around defining media literacy does not distract focus from what should be the primary objective of protecting and empowering young people.

My understanding is that the research underpinning the Byron Report was funded by Ofcom's Media Literacy team (thanks @jukesie on Twitter) so perhaps this isn't too surprising.

'Digital literacy' doesn't have an entry in Wikipedia, redirecting to 'computer literacy' instead (which doesn't feel quite right to me), whereas both 'information literacy' and 'media literacy' do, from which I can only conclude that it isn't an accepted term (despite the fact that I'm sure I've regularly heard it being used informally).

Media convergence would suggest that these terms should probably come together anyway, and Ofcom's own definition of 'media literacy' includes aspects that ALA would probably refer to as 'information literacy' ("recognising and comprehending information to the higher order critical thinking skills such as questioning, analysing and evaluating that information") and that I would call 'digital literacy' ("use an electronic programme guide to find the programme they want to watch", "use the internet to find information" and "control what they and their children see to avoid being offended") though I have a concern that Ofcom's definition is very broadcast media centric (which, again, is not surprising).

Does anyone else regularly use 'digital literacy' to refer to the ability to manage, understand and use Web-based and other digital technologies/resources?  If so, perhaps we need to get together and update Wikipedia?  On the other hand, perhaps 'media literacy' is indeed better (provided we (I?) can get over any associations with 'old' media), being somewhat more generic and less tied to a particular form of technology?

April 04, 2008

Re-purposing the Byron report for kids

Via Dan Livingstone on Learning Games I note that that the Byron Report, Safer Children in a  Digital World: the report of the Byron Review, has been made available in a summary form suitable for children and young people.  Great idea... though it's a shame that has only been made available as a PDF copy of the paper document - hardly the most exciting format to use on the Web, particularly given the context.

I've taken the liberty of re-purposing this summary into a set of Powerpoint slides, uploaded into Slideshare.  This means that it can be very easily embedded into school's Web sites (or anywhere else for that matter):

I've tried as far as possible to retain the look and feel of the original summary, though there are places where the formatting has necessarily had to be changed.  This is text-heavy for a presentation - but then, it isn't really a presentation, it's an embeddable document.

Undertaking this work highlighted, for me, the utter, utter crapness of PDF as an online distribution format.  Copying-and-pasting the text resulted in me having to remove umpteen fixed line breaks for example.  It is also worth noting that this work probably contravenes the licence under which the summary has been made available:

Extracts from this document may be reproduced for non-commercial research, education or training purposes on the condition that the source is acknowledged.

I suppose that what I've done here isn't technically an extract! :-) Sigh... why would anyone want to limit the ways in which this particular document can be re-used and re-purposed?  If what I've done here offends anyone, let me know and I'll take it down.

[Note (added 2008/04/10): I'm pleased to say that the licence under which this material is made available is less restrictive than the above text would appear to indicate.  I don't quite understand why they are not more up-front about this, nor why a click-thru licence is required, but overall I think the licencing situation is acceptable.  See the comments for details.]

March 08, 2008

Netskills information literacy workshops for schools

Netskills have announced several workshops in the area of plagiarism awareness and information skills aimed at the schools sector.  These workshops are being run as part of two projects funded by us (the Eduserv Foundation).

March 06, 2008

Cardiff University information literacy podcasts

Cardiff University have released a series of six podcasts focusing on improving essay writing for university students:

The podcast is called "Student Survival Guide to Writing a Good Essay" and has been created in conjunction with the University's student radio station.  The six short episodes feature interviews with students, academic staff and librarians on topics such as:

  • What makes a good essay?
  • Quality control: information to use and avoid
  • Going beyond the reading list: finding good web sites
  • Going beyond the reading list: discovering books and journals
  • Getting your references in order
  • Meeting the deadline

The podcasts, which are hosted on Xpress Radio, are currently organised by date rather than by topic, making individual episodes less easy to find than they might have been.  Apart from that fairly minor gripe, this looks like an interesting approach to raising information literacy skills.

January 18, 2008

The copy-and-paste generation

Information skills seem to have been in the news of late (e.g. see the item entitled White bread? from a few days ago).  The debate, in the UK at least, is now fueled by reports from the BBC that "more than half of teachers believe internet plagiarism is a serious problem among sixth-form students" (based on a survey undertaken by The Association of Teachers and Lecturers).  Hey... not only is the Internet full of unreliable information but some of those duffers are cutting-and-pasting it into their essays without even removing the Web advertising material! :-)

More seriously, we've tried to make a small contribution to this area through the Eduserv Foundation, funding five information literacy projects last year.  Of these, we are currently providing continuation funding to two of the original recipients - John Crawford at Glasgow Calendonian University, who is working on The Scottish Information Literacy Project: working with partners to create an information literate Scotland project and Netskills, who are developing information skills and plagiarism awareness materials and workshops for the UK schools sector.

I think that the questions around plagiarism are really interesting.  Ignoring those who simply want to cheat or save themselves some effort, learning how to form and express our own opinions based on the writings of others, how we assess arguments, how we express agreement with existing views without simply copying them word for word are really important.  Looking at my own children (who I encourage to use Wikipedia for their homework by the way, but who I also encourage to read books and other information sources) I know they find these skills very difficult to grasp.  I'm not convinced the curriculum, even at A level, helps much, or as much as it could.

As a parent I can say "you can't cut-and-paste that, you've got to read it and then put it in your own words" but the reaction is mixed.  Superficially, they tend to respond with, "why, what's wrong with those words - they say what I want to say!".  Well, yes... but...

To put it somewhat crassly, if I can mashup music why can't I mashup text?  I wonder if there is a genuine difference in mindset here?

Even relatively simple skills like knowing how and when to quote and cite other's work don't necessarily come naturally.  Primary schools, in my limited experience, are quite good at getting younger children to remember to say where they got their information from, in project-based homework for example.  But I'm not sure how well that limited grounding gets built on in secondary school?

The answers in this area, it seems to me, have to focus on what is most effective for learning outcomes.  Unfortunately, I'm not really in a position to judge that - other than in a man in the street kind of way.  On that basis I encourage my kids not to copy-and-paste too much or too often and hope for the best!

January 16, 2008

Generation G

As Paul Walk notes, coincidence is a wonderful thing.  In this case, the coincidence is the JISC's publication of a report entitled "Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future" (PDF only) following hot on the heels of the debate around whether Google and the Internet should be blamed for students' lack of critical skills when evaluating online resources.

The report, in part, analyses the myths and realities around the google generation, though it actually goes much further than this, providing a very valuable overview of how researchers of the future (those currently in their school or pre-school years) might reasonably be expected to "access and interact with digital resources in five to ten years' time".  Overall, the report seems to indicate that there is little evidence to suggest that there is much generational impact on our information skill and research behaviours:

Whether or not our young people really have lower levels of traditional information skills than before, we are simply not in a position to know. However, the stakes are much higher now in an educational setting where `self-directed learning’ is the norm. We urgently need to find out.


Our overall conclusion is that much writing on the topic of this report overestimates the impact of ICTs on the young and underestimates its effect on older generations. A much greater sense of balance is needed.

Or as the JISC press release puts it:

research-behaviour traits that are commonly associated with younger users – impatience in search and navigation, and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information needs – are now the norm for all age-groups, from younger pupils and undergraduates through to professors

The message is pretty clear.  Information skills are increasingly important and teaching them at university level appears to be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.  There is some evidence that to be effective, information skills need to be developed during the formative school years.  Interestingly, to me as a parent at least, is the evidence from the US that indicates that when "the top and bottom quartiles of students - as defined by their information literacy skills - are compared, it emerges that the top quartile report a much higher incidence of exposure to basic library skills from their parents, in the school library, classroom or public library in their earlier years".

The report ends by enumerating sets of implications for information experts, research libraries, policy makers, and ultimately all of us.  Well worth reading.

January 15, 2008

White bread?

Via Emma Place and The Times Online I note that:

Google is "white bread for the mind", and the internet is producing a generation of students who survive on a diet of unreliable information, a professor of media studies will claim this week.

Good grief.  Emma is right to say that this is an important issue and I completely agree that "Internet research skills should be actively taught as a formal part of the university curriculum. Students may well be savvy when it comes to using new Internet technologies, but they need help and guidance on finding and using Web resources that are appropriate for academic work" but the debate isn't helped much by sound bites.

Blaming the Internet for "a generation of students who survive on a diet of unreliable information" is a bit like blaming paper for the Daily Star.  How about blaming an education system that hasn't kept up with the times?

The Internet, Google and Wikipedia are tools - no more, no less.  Let's help people understand how to use them effectively.

September 25, 2007


Via Josie Fraser I note that has just been launched.

The site is targeted at teachers, parents and carers who are interested in understanding and supporting children and young people's online social participation.

The site provides advice primarily targeted, as far as I can tell, at the parents / carers and teachers of secondary school children (11-16 year olds) - covering safe and effective use of social networking sites and issues around cyber-bullying - though I suspect it will also be valuable to parents and carers of younger children.

The site introduces the new term 'digizen' for "someone who uses their online presence to shape the world for the better - and inspires others to do the same".

Although the coverage of this site probably falls outside a strict definition of 'information literacy' it seems to me to be a critical part of what one might call 'digital literacy' and something we should encourage our schools and other children's services to cover, either formally or informally, in the curriculum.

July 23, 2007

New VTS tutorials announced

Intute have announced three new additions to the Virtual Training Suite - Internet for Dentistry and Oral Health, Internet Pharmacist and Internet for Allied Health.  Good stuff.

The tutorials offer advice on using the Internet for research for university work, offering a guide to some of the key academic websites for the subject, advice on Internet searching and on critical evaluation of information found on the Internet. "Success Stories" in each tutorial illustrate how the Internet can be used effectively to support education and research.

Note that there is no connection between Eduserv and these tutorials - I just happen to think they are great.

January 31, 2007

Journal of Information Literacy launched

The Journal of Information Literacy has just been launched...

JIL is an international, peer-reviewed, academic journal that aims to investigate Information Literacy (IL) within a wide range of settings.  Papers on any topic related to the practical, technological or philosophical issues raised by the attempt to increase information literacy throughout society are encouraged. JIL is published in electronic format only and is an open-access title.

I note this partly because Eduserv developed and hosts the Information Literacy Web site, through which this journal is delivered, and partly because it covers what appears to me to be quite an important area.

It'll be interesting to see how it develops over time.

January 05, 2007

Plagiarism awareness and information skills for teachers

Two interesting short reports have been made available by Netskills at the University of Newcastle, following a couple of projects funded by the Eduserv Foundation under our Information Literacy  Initiatives.

The projects developed pilot workshop programmes related to information literacy in the schools sector, specifically covering plagiarism and information skills and targeted at teachers.  The reports describe the workshops that the Netskills team developed and some of the issues they encountered in trying to deliver them to school teachers.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the small scale of the programmes delivered through this work makes it difficult to draw very firm conclusions.  Nonetheless, both reports close with recommendations for further activities, and these seem to make a lot of sense to me.  There is clearly a lot of scope for further work in these areas.

As the reports say at the end:

...the programme has shown that there is a clear interest and pressing need for training, awareness-raising and debate about plagiarism in the schools sector.


...the project has identified a need for a more strategic approach to the staff development of teachers in terms of their information skills, but due to the existing pressures on teachers' time, the value of this development must be clearly demonstrated.

November 08, 2006

Intute - new Internet tutorials released

I've always had a soft spot for the Virtual Training Suite of Internet information literacy tutorials.  In my view this was one of the best things to come out of the JISC-funded Resource Discovery Network (now Intute) though, to be honest, I preferred the VTS's previous name - Internet Detective.  It's good therefore to see the service announcing a programme of new and updated tutorials:

Intute has released a number of new Internet tutorials for the Arts and Humanities, in the Virtual Training Suite this term.  The following tutorials have been completely updated and revised:

Internet Archaeologist
By Stuart Jeffrey, Archaeology Data Service/AHDS Archaeology, University of York.

Internet for Historians
By staff from the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.

Internet for Modern Languages
By Dr. Shoshannah Holdom, University of Oxford

Internet for Performing Arts
By Jez Conolly, Drama Subject Librarian, University of Bristol

Internet for Religious Studies
By Dr. Meriel Patrick, Oxford University

Internet Philosopher
By Kathy Behrendt, D.Phil, University of Oxford

This the the first stage of a major programme of change to update and revise all the tutorials in the Virtual Training Suite over the coming year.  A national network of expert authors is being commissioned to re-write the content of each tutorial to bring it in line with recent Internet developments and to ensure the tutorials continue to offer authoritative and timely advice on Internet research for over 60 subjects.

The recommended lists of key Internet resources are being completely updated; there is new advice on Internet searching, with improved interactive exercises; and a new section called "Success Stories" in each tutorial to illustrate how the Internet can be used effectively to support education and research.

Good stuff!



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